Delaware Public Media

Rice plants defend themselves against arsenic, infections

Nov 28, 2016

Some researchers are concerned about the health effects cultures that eat large amounts of rice face from arsenic.

Arsenic naturally occurs in soil - a worry because if consumed in high levels, it can cause cancer and genetic damage.

University of Delaware researchers have found groups of microbes in North American rice plants that can defend the rice plants against infections and reduce high arsenic levels.

Harsh Bais, a plant and soil sciences professor, said these microbes may be able to protect other rice varieties in areas with lots of arsenic in the soil,and reduce the chances of arsenic poisoning. He worked with student Jonathon Cottone to figure out how to help rice plants cope with threats from the soil.


"In soil, microbes often act together and that’s what we did," Bais said. "We actually used two different microbes and showed when you use a consortium approach you could pretty much tackle two of the biggest problems in rice and reduce those problems so the yield doesn’t get affected."


Though Bais said this does not plague Delaware, rice grown in regions of Texas is contaminated with arsenic. But Bais and Cottone are more focused on regions outside of North America.


"It’s a big big problem that people eat rice in three courses in Southeast Asia, parts of South America," Bais said. "You have some natural sediments and rice usually takes arsenic - kind of in a non preferential way and unfortunately stores it in the grain."


They still don't know if this process will work in Southeast Asian soils, so he wants to conduct field tests in areas like India and Bangladesh to find out.


If successful, he hopes industry giants can include these microbes with rice seeds to better protect the health of people worldwide.